Negative Parental Involvement in Competitive Youth Sport: What is the Solution?

By Ryan L.

As someone who has spent much of his adolescence playing competitive sport, I have witnessed a number of parents getting into altercations with coaches, officials, and even other parents. In most cases, these outraged parents had no justifiable reason for their behavior; they also did not understand the negative effect that they could have had on their child’s development when doing so. In order to foster positive youth development through competitive sport, parents must be made aware of the effects that their actions can have on their children. Whether it is at home, during a game, or on the way home from a game, parental involvement is paramount to ensuring an enjoyable sport experience for children.

Prior to finding a solution to negative parental involvement in competitive youth sport, we must first find out exactly how parents are behaving at their child’s sporting events. Holt, Tamminen, Black, Sehn, and Wall (2008) examined parents’ verbal reactions to their child’s performance in an under-12 soccer league. Results of the study found that 35% of comments were forms of encouragement, 35% were forms of instruction, and the other 30% consisted of neutral, negative, and derogatory comments (Holt et al., 2008). This means that more than half of comments from parents were either instructive or negative in some way; these children are not even 12 years old and they are already being put down or critiqued on their sport performance. Being surrounded by this negativity at such a young age puts children at serious risk of early sport dropout, which can drastically hinder their development as they approach adolescence. Goodman and James (2017) examined the views of both the parent and child with regards to parental involvement in soccer leagues ranging from 8-15 years old. Although children felt that the majority of their parents’ involvement was helpful, they mentioned that negative emotional responses from parents were very discouraging (Goodman & James, 2017). Now that we know how the majority of parents tend to behave in a competitive youth sport setting and how their behaviour can impact their child’s development, what can we do to address the issue?

As a coach of a competitive sports team, there are a number of actions that can be taken in order to ensure positive parental involvement, with the ultimate goal of fostering positive youth development. Prior to the start of a season, coaches should meet with parents and encourage them to be supportive of their children, as critiquing the child’s performance should be left to the coach. Parents should also be encouraged to call or meet privately with the coach about any issues that they may have; public altercations could potentially lead to bigger, unnecessary problems. As a league director, zero-tolerance policies should be implemented towards inappropriate behaviour during games, whether it be towards coaches, officials, or parents of opposing teams.

Although parents may be trying to help their child avoid the same mistakes that they made as young athletes themselves, they must realize that living through their child is not the correct way to support them. Empathizing with your child may come naturally, but should not cause you to get frustrated with them. Instead, parents should be supportive of their children and trust that the team coach will do their part in helping improve the child’s performance. Parental involvement in youth sport can significantly impact child development; whether this impact is positive or negative depends greatly on verbal interaction between the parent and child.

References:

Goodman, M., & James, I. A. (2017). Parental involvement in young footballers’ development: A comparison of the opinions of children and their parents. Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, 13(1), 2-9.

Holt, N. L., Tamminen, K. A., Black, D. E., Sehn, Z. L., & Wall, M. P. (2008). Parental involvement in competitive youth sport settings. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 9(5), 663-685.

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6 Responses to Negative Parental Involvement in Competitive Youth Sport: What is the Solution?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great post Ryan! I agree that parental involvement can have a negative impact on youth and can also affect youth development in different ways. Parents don’t always understand that every time they yell at their child it can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and self-efficacy. Instead of focusing on mistakes made in the game, parents should provide suggestions on ways their child can improve and keep the conversation positive. Too much involvement, either negative or positive, can also create a greater sense of pressure for youth. This can cause a negative association with sport and possibly lead to burnout. It’s critical for parents to focus on the improvement and development of their child in sport instead of constantly being concerned with how many goals they scored or how well they played. Negative parental involvement decreases youth’s autonomy, sense of freedom, and prevents youth from taking risks in sport. It simply adds to the difficulty of attempting new skills and taking chances when parents are constantly critiquing their child’s performance or athletic ability. In turn, this can inhibit the progression of skill set in youth and discourage them from expanding their comfort zone. Although parental involvement can be key to the success of youth, it is key for parents to realize the impact every comment has on the development of youth and the ability it has to alter youth’s experience with sport.

    – Mackenzie M.

  2. Hannah Kennedy says:

    Interesting topic and good points Ryan!

    I agree that some parents can definitely have a negative effect on their child’s experience with sport. I’ve see so many negative screaming parents in the stands – both when I’ve coached and when I’ve played. I’ve even see parents going as far as cussing and verbally abusing their child or players on the other team and getting kicked out of the sporting event because of it. It’s also not uncommon for the children of these parents to be under the age of 12 – which is ridiculous. I can actually relate to this topic because my dad coached me throughout my sports career many times in many different sports. I’m lucky enough that my parent involvement was always a positive one and fostered an overall positive youth development environment. There were only ever words of encouragement or constructive criticism used in my case and that worked best for my improvement in the sport as well as my overall enjoyment of the sport.

    Hannah K.

  3. johnhunt17 says:

    Very engaging post Ryan! I was surprised by the statistics on the context of verbal comments surrounding the youth’s performance at their U12 soccer game. What surprised me was how young are being practically coached from the bleachers. I believe that youth should be evaluated on positive effort and behaviour, not on their performance in terms of successes and failures. Criticism based on performance results is not constructive or development educing for youth, and will only have negative impacts on youth’s self-esteem and participation in sport. Obviously these negative comments and constant feedback from spectators will have a damaging effect towards the child’s sport enjoyment, which we identified in class as one of the positive components to sport commitment. Negative social support will increase the likelihood that children will stay committed to a particular sport, and is an indication of negative social influence from their social development assets in other contexts as well. Thus, I agree strongly with your point that family and friends verbal interactions towards youth in the sport setting can determine whether that child develop competently with enjoyment or not.

    Great Job!

    Comment from John Hunt

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great post Ryan! I thought it was very informative and interesting to read. I was not very surprised about the statistics that Tamminen, Black, Sehn, and Wall found when examining parents verbal reactions to their child’s performance. Growing up in a small community where people love drama and conflict, it wasn’t rare to see parents yelling at youth from the sidelines during games. I have been to sporting events where parents, players and even the entire team have been kicked out of the game due to parent’s negative comments. I agree that parent involvement can have negative effects on youth development. It often makes youth feel pressured and stressed when their parent is constantly telling them they need to do better. Parents should be involved with supporting youth, driving them to games, paying fees, etc. They should not be involved to the extent where it is mentally or physically hurting the youth.

    Kendra U

  5. Brittany Akmens says:

    Parental involvement will be inevitable within youth sport as parents are often times their children’s biggest supporters, forms of transportation, and their source of funding to cover participation cost. However, I completely agree that negative parental involvement in competitive youth sport has become a huge problem and needs to be addressed in order for the children participating to develop positively. Growing up, my brother and I both played competitive soccer for several years. Although our parents were never the ones to be yelling in the stands or giving us long-winded lectures on our performances after we played a game, there were always several parents being negative and losing their tempers during the course of a game. We often associate youth dropout in sport and recreation because of burnout or lack of fun yet, I agree with your statement in saying that dropout can also occur as a result of negative parental involvement. Positive youth development is fostered through building children’s interest, skills, and abilities. Without positive encouragement and support from their parents, these elements may become harder to achieve for youth and lead to dropping out of sport early in the lives.

    Great blog post, I really enjoyed the topic you chose!

    Brittany A.

  6. bleblan3 says:

    Hey Ryan, interesting view and I too have some personal views on parental involvement.
    As I once discussed in class, I have a very strong opinion regarding how my parents were involved in my adolescence. Both ends of the spectrum can be both beneficial and detrimental to the personal development of some youth. Positive involvement means to support your child through the act of empowerment, verbal encouragement, financial aid, their presence, and providing all other resources available for their progression. My mother was greatly influential in my growth as an athlete. Through taking pictures, never missing a game, managing teams, and making sure I got to practice.
    From what you said in your blog I can guess you have seen exactly what I say when parents can make or break their youth. I am referring to the directive behavior and aggressive tendencies that have become apparent in sport culture. Parents have increased pressure to win or to do better to the point that it makes sport more of a chore rather then fun.
    I believe that the only way to fix a problem is to admit that there is one. Organizations take very minimal effort to regulate this and should be taken more seriously. One preventative measure that I have seen and even used that has been the #1 resource is to simply ask. The more personal knowledge one has, the better equipped they can be. Overall I agree with your point, and truly think that it is a disease unaddressed in youth sport.

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